Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





August 13, 2000


Sainsburys Reply; Stossel; Blacks and Biotech


Comments from Prof. Michael Wilson (CEO, Horticulture Research

"Retailers and customer-pressure/perceptions" - (please see below,
Michael's e-mail to Sainsburys and their response)

-----Original Message-----
From: Pippa Cope [mailto:pico@tao.sainsburys.co.uk]
To: Wilson, Michael Subject: Re: SAINSBURYS TO BE APPLAUDED

Many thanks for your email, and please accept my apologies for the delay
in replying to you. Thanks for your comments on GM food. Sainsbury's
eliminated GM ingredients from its own label foods and petfoods in July
1999 following customer demand for non-GM foods and continue to operate a
non-GM policy. I must stress that this is purely due to customer pressure,
and not based on solid scientific investigation.

We have reacted to what our customers want to see on our shelves, so if
the majority of public opinion changes, we may consider investigating this
area again.

I hope this isn't too disappointing to you, Kind regards Pippa

"Wilson, Michael" wrote:

Comments from Prof. Michael Wilson FRSE ............

I was delighted to hear that Sainsburys are supporting research into
biotechnology, in particular, improved vegetables with longer shelf-life
by exploiting the benefits of genetic enhancement technology. As a senior
research scientist in plant pathology and plant biotechnology, I have been
deeply disturbed over recent years to see how science, technology and a
knowledge-based regulatory and decision-making process has been hijacked
and distorted by misinformation and fear-mongering by single-issue
activist groups bent on their own agendas. I am delighted therefore to see
that Sainsburys are beginning, at last, to stand up against this sort of
irrational pressure. I will be happy to do anything to further support you
in this initiative.

I frequently regret, when visiting supermarkets, that "organically grown"
produce are promoted as being "free from chemicals" and, by implication
and without scientific evidence, to be more health giving and nutritious.
In fact, organic farming uses higher levels of toxic chemicals than modern
farming - Cu2 SO4, Sulphur, Derris, Bt toxin, and approves sterilisation
of soils by flaming or steaming - which must destroy ALL biodiversity not
just weed seeds. Having read the House of Lords Science and Technology
Committee Report, having looked at a variety of studies, and having
recently responded myself to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry
into organic farming, I would contest these claims. I suspect that while
it is convenient and economically expedient for the organic movement to
promote their products in this way, this is based more on ideology and
opportunism than on scientific fact or thorough analysis. I would be happy
to send you my response to the Agriculture Select Committee Inquiry which
I am now at liberty to do since it is going into the public domain. This
response was a synthesis of information gleaned from my extensive staff
throughout Horticulture Research International (over 750 colleagues
dispersed on 6 research sites across England). I believe that it was a
balanced and thorough analysis of the organic farming issue.

A recent announcement by Iceland that they were securing 40% of the
world's organically grown vegetables to supply their entire product line
with organic material was clearly designed as a media stunt and marketing
ploy to exploit the fear which they and others have instilled in the
public regarding modern agricultural production methods and genetic
manipulation of crops in particular. Clearly they are denying choice, and
I for one would avoid any organically grown food because of the greater
risk of "natural" toxins and anti-nutritionals expressed by plants exposed
to pests and diseases. Perhaps it is time that Sainsburys and the other
supermarkets undertook (and funded?) independent thorough research of a
comparative nature into organic, conventional and genetically enhanced
crop production methods, environmental impacts and nutritional value?
Almost all of my scientific colleagues believe that the current emphasis
and positive media and vested interest spin on organic foods represents a
dangerous and unsustainable direction for UK agriculture on any large

From a public perception/perspective, I firmly believe that the vast
majority of the plant biology research community as well as agricultural
economists etc. regard the organic movement as akin to the story of the
"Emperor's New Clothes"! The sooner sound scientific information and
evidence for or against the claims made by the organic lobby can be
underpinned by sound research and scientific knowledge the better. This
may be a strategy that Sainsburys and others wish to pursue in order to
avoid having to compete with the sort of media nonsense and tactics
adopted by Iceland?

Once again, I would encourage Sainsburys and others to support sound
scientific research and the development of crops grown, harvested and
stored with the best technology available, based on knowledge and fact
rather than ideology and myth.

Horticulture Research International, Wellesbourne, Warwick CV35 9EF UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1789 470382
Fax: +44 (0) 1789 470363
email: michael.wilson@hri.ac.uk

From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: Re: John Stossel ABC 20/20

Marcus Williamson

Sorry to be rude but the ignorance that you display on your postings to
this news group simply has no limits. You have mastered one of the oldest
Luddite tricks in the book, namely refuting an argument that your
opponents don't make. The classic one is the frequently made argument that
GM foods "alone" cannot solve the world's food problems as if anyone is
claiming that they could do any more that contribute to their solution or
even that they are an essential element in any solution. You have asked
for peer reviewed scientific studies and publications that find GM foods
to be safe. When they are provided in abundance, you simply call it

In your letter, you refer to Dennis Avery's "using 'data' about E.coli
from a report which does not even exist." Sorry also to rain on your
parade but Avery never claimed that there was a report but that he used
data posted on the CDC website. The campaign to get the CDC to deny that
they had such a report was a crude and in your case, a successful attempt
to obfuscate the issue. If you have the courage of your convictions, you
and the other organic devotees, can petiton the CDC to re-post the data
that they removed, so that we can all examine it and judge for ourselves.
In the interim, you can go to the CDC website and check their Emerging
Infectious Diseases Journal and go to their 1997 special issue on
foodborne diseases and observe the stated causes such as unpastuerized
juices, raw sprouts and manure in agriculture among others. Noted as a
cause is the "lifestyle" associated with these foods. You might also check
the data sources cited by Alex Avery below. Pardon the "fogging" on this
one but you seem to have picked up an immunity to any body of knowledge
that might challenge your comforting assumptions and world view.

Would you mind answering one question, why would anyone want to pay a much
higher price for "organic" food if the much cheaper conventional food was
clean, safe, nutritious, abundant (as it as become in the developed
countries and increasingly so elsewhere) and cheap? The answer is obvious,
no one would. Therefore, the proponents of the organic have for the last
seven decades on a non-stop campaign of lies (and I used that term,
advisely) trashing modern agriculture and foodsupply to make the case for
their more expensive alternative. Whenever someone tries to defend modern
agriculture, the paranoid organic people (let us call them organicoids)
cry foul and play victim charging those who differ with them with doing
not only what they have been doing for decades but what they have to do to
continue to survive. Now they are trying to deprive someone of his
professional livelihod for an honest mistake that pales in comparison to
the lies (again, I use the term, advisedly) that his critics have been
telling. That in my judgement, sir, that is not only dishonest, it is

Have a nice day!

Tom DeGregori

At 12:55 PM 8/12/00 +0100, Marcus Williamson wrote:

>Mr Avery
>Far from being an "honest and minor mistake", John Stossel is
experiencing the consequences of telling an untruth, incorrectly comparing
pesticide residues on organic and conventional products.
>You, your father, John Hillman, John Mottley, Antony Trewavas, and
others, have continually attempted to denigrate organic architecture using
"data" about E.coli from a report which does not even exist.
>What do you have to gain by trying to denigrate organic agriculture in
this way? Why not concentrate on the supposed benefits of GM food, if any
can be found?
>Look forward to hearing from you.
>Marcus Williamson
Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: French Attitude; Support Stossel; Danish paper yanks
the story Date:

Andrew Apel

Tom and all,

If the organic trade groups can successfully sue ABC news over the Stossel
incident (by "successfully," I mean not have the case thrown out on
technical grounds),these groups will unwittingly establish the basis for
similar, and much stronger, cases against themselves.

In some jurisdictions of the US we have "veggie libel" laws, and while
many wonder, most doubt that these laws can be extended to cover
"technology libel" cases, i.e., when there the case hinges not on a
particular product, but on the manner of production of a range of

There is also the common-law tort of "trade disparagement," which can be
difficult to establish.

That said, if the organic groups can put together a successful legal
theory with which to sue Stossel and ABC, whatever that theory may be, I
have in my possession an anti-biotech leaflet written by Ronnie Cummins
here which was given to a friend of mine (who called, greatly concerned),
which is so chock-full of misinformation that, if a suit against Stossel
and ABC works, a suit against Cummins, et. al., would work a dozen times

These organic groups, if they stumble upon a workable legal theory, may
well wish to consider that if they take it to court, the precedent could
well be turned upon them with a vengeance.

>From: Tom DeGregori
>While the experts are fiddling and the theoreticians are debating, the
arsonists are setting the city ablaze. It is absurd to the point of being
obscene that a Fenton Communications affliliate is contemplating a class
action suit against ABC for the 20/20 Report on Organic Food
Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Bio-foods can end hunger in America and starvation
and diseas in Africa
From: Red Porphyry

The following article is a classic example of distortion, and one which
helps the pro-biotech cause not one whit.

Comments intespersed.

At 06:31 PM 8/11/2000 -0000, you wrote:
>Knight Ridder/Tribune
>August 11, 2000, Friday
>Bio-foods can end hunger in America and starvation and disease in Africa
By John Meredith
>WASHINGTON _ Wouldn't you rather eat a banana than get a shot? I know
that I would. Science now makes it possible to get a vaccination against
hepatitis, which kills an estimated 100 million people per year worldwide,
simply by eating a banana.

i would just like to point out to everyone that, as far as i know, this
statement is completely false. "science" has most certainly not yet made
"it possible to get a vaccination against hepatitis, which kills an
estimated 100 million people per year worldwide, simply by eating a
banana." anyone who wants to get vaccinated against hepititis b must still
take a series of three injections, at least in the u.s.

>A breakthrough in the field of biotechnology, it virtually eliminates the
storage and sterilization concerns previously necessary for injections. It
also saves money, costing just two cents for a banana instead of $125 for
a shot!

again i need to point out that this is false. no such breakthrough in the
field of biotechnology has occurred. and if it does, massive fraud is
likely to be one of the results.

"hey, buddy, give me five bucks and i'll give you this banana. eat it and
you'll never get hepatitis." (wink, wink)

the current vaccination system ain't broke. don't try to fix it.

by the way, you only pay $125 a shot if you go to a private doctor and
have no insurance. you can also get one from the public health service,
for free.

>But this and other marvels of genetic-modification are at risk.
Environmentalists are attacking biotechnology, trying to convince the
government and the public that the science is unsafe.
>What's really unsafe, however, is their attempt to stop valuable research
and the production of foods and medicines. As a black American, I consider
this opposition as elitism in its cruelest form since the poorest members
of the population, blacks in particular, are going to suffer because of it.


>Considering the benefits of biotechnology and the stringent government
policies ensuring their safety, why the opposition? Unfortunately, you
must realize that environmental radicals regularly put the needs of rocks
and slugs before the needs of mankind. Their campaign against science, if
successful, could lead to hard times and worse for the poor and minorities
here in the United States and in Africa.
>Despite recent advances in the workplace and the growth of the black
middle class, there are millions of us who still live in substandard
conditions in urban areas and who bring home meager salaries that keep us

this is true. however, anyone who has actually spent some time living in
predominantly black urban areas in the u.s. knows for a fact that neither
biotechnology as a field nor anti-biotechnolgy views are responsible for
>By shunning biotechnology, we are being denied the benefits other
Americans take for granted.

black americans as a group do not "shun" biotechnology or gm foods, as any
perusal of their shopping carts will show.

>Produce that has a longer shelf life and more nutritional value at lower
prices would be a godsend to urban blacks who must usually rely on corner
markets that don't get the same quality stock as the Fresh Fields in the

the bodegas and corner markets in the inner city have no intention of
passing on any such "cost savings" to their customers, especially when the
customers are urban blacks. the major reasons are: (1) bodegas and corner
markets are too small in size and buy groceries in too small quantities to
achieve significant economies of scale, (2) rents paid by bodegas and
corner markets to their landlords are enormous, in large part because
commercial property taxes are so high, partly due to a significant portion
of the available "commercial" land being occupied by various non-profit
organizations, which pay no taxes, (3) many bodegas and corner markets are
actually fronts for drug-dealing, illegal gambling, and prostitution, (4)
many owners of bodegas and corner markets simply don't care much for black
>But while these elitists can still drive their VW Beetles to Fresh Fields
for organic lettuce, inner-city blacks must rely on the local Wendy's for
their tomatoes and their brothers in Africa continue to starve.

inner-city blacks generally rely for their tomatoes, other vegetables and
fruits by purchasing them canned. canned foods have VERY, VERY long shelf
lives, and contrary to popular belief, do retain most of their nutritional
value. many of them are also gm foods, but black people don't seem to mind
that one bit.
so what's this guy's point?

>John Meredith is a member of the African-American leadership network
Project 21 of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a
nonpartisan think-tank. The son of Mississippi civil rights leader James
Meredith, he is a board member of two community-based nonprofit
organizations and the national co-chairman of minority outreach for an
independent election monitoring group. Readers may write to him at NCPPR,
777 N. Capitol NE, Suite 803, Washington, D.C. 20002, or e-mail him at:

i was under the impression that it was the consensus of the members of
this list that "those who favor racial equality" are allies and
fellow-travelers with the eco-reactionaries. hmmm. is it possible that
this article is in fact something other than what it seems?